FRESH AIR

Iranian online Jew-hatred likely fed international wave of antisemitism

Jun 19, 2021 | Oved Lobel

(Shutterstock/ Global News Art)
(Shutterstock/ Global News Art)

The recent conflict between Israel and terrorist factions in Gaza led to a massive spike in antisemitic incidents, including “anti-Zionists” physically attacking Jews on the streets of US and European cities, a common occurrence whenever the Gaza factions start a war with Israel. The Secure Community Network, a group advising Jewish communities on security matters in the US, recorded an 80% spike in antisemitic hate crimes in May alone, something it partially attributes to an explosion of antisemitic disinformation and open incitement against Jews on social media.

It will surprise nobody to learn that one network that spread and amplified this antisemitic incitement on social media is Iranian. Iranian regime-linked Twitter accounts began spreading messages like “hitler was right” and “kill all jews” at a rate of 175 times per minute, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, an organisation affiliated with Rutgers University and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that many of the Tweets were “associated with troll armies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

One of the Twitter hashtags that the Secure Community Network said exploded during the conflict was #COVID1948, promoting the idea that the Jewish state is a dangerous virus worse than COVID-19. A report by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies demonstrated that this hashtag was coordinated by an Iranian network beginning in April 2020 and was part of a vicious incitement campaign spread through official Iranian media and across social media that went all the way up to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

This hashtag was linked to COVID-19 antisemitic conspiracy theories – blaming a Zionist or Jewish plot for causing the COVID-19 pandemic – which spread rapidly in Iran, as they did elsewhere in the Middle East. These were also officially promoted by Iran’s state-owned media. Iran’s proxies, like the Houthis, also promoted such conspiracy theories, with Houthi politburo official Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Mahbashi proclaiming, “That virus that has spread all over the world – the Jews are behind it.”

Antisemitic attacks in the US, particularly in New York, have been increasing at an alarming rate since 2018, when the New York Times published an article entitled “Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?” In 2019, there was another dramatic uptick in hate crimes, almost all due to rising antisemitism, with Jews being routinely attacked across the city.

But while antisemitism is a pervasive problem that long predates the Iranian regime, which is but one of its many champions – although likely its most active and open state promoter – there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that its social media incitement campaigns are playing a role in the recent spike in attacks against Jews in the US and perhaps elsewhere. 

Social Media platforms and governments that care about racism and antisemitism should support efforts to inhibit blatant incitement of anti-Jewish hate, Iranian or otherwise, and a clear message should be sent to the Iranian regime that such activity is unacceptable. 

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